Is This a Big Change, or Not?


iStock_000005861579SmallWe’ve all experienced this. We are facing a really big change, and yet when we begin to discuss it with others going through it with us, they shrug their shoulders and say, “No big deal.” Or, vice versa.

Is it a big change, or not? What makes a change big, or not?

There are two critical perspectives to apply when answering this question. The first is examine the change itself; the second is to view the change as seen by those who are experiencing it.

Before we explore these perspectives, let’s return one more time to the definition of change: Change is a disruption in expectations. The bigger the disruption, the bigger the change.

Applying a Change Perspective

Is this a big change? Here are some questions to reflect on as you apply a change perspective.

  • How many different sets of expectations are being disrupted?
  • What, specifically is being disrupting? Is it:
    • Who people interact with
    • How they interact with one another
    • The expectations of those interactions
    • How people think about one another
    • How people think about what they are doing
    • That power bases will be shifted; some people will gain power, others will lose it
  • How large are the disruptions it requires?
  • How many people are being disrupted? Is it a small number, or does the change ripple across an organization or large familial/social network?
  • how clearly defined–and visible–is a successful outcome?
  • How clear is the journey from the present state to the desired future state?
  • How important is it that the promises of the change be fully delivered?

Applying a Change Target Lens

Is this a big change? To some degree, that is in the eye of the beholder, the targets of the change who have to modify their behavior, and perhaps even how they think about things, if the change is to succeed. There are several factors that come into play.

Is the change perceived as positive or negative? It is likely that different people will see it differently, and thus approach it differently. If you are approaching something from a negative perspective it is generally much more difficult to face than if you are approaching it in a positive manner; the change appears tougher–and bigger–than if it were seen in a positive light.

How much else is going on? If life is really quiet, people have more mental, physical, and emotional capacity for adapting to the change than if there is a lot going on. One of the challenges is that, especially in organizational change (but sometimes in personal change as well), we really don’t know what is going on in people’s lives beyond what we see in our interactions with them. Mary might have a sleep disorder; Charlie might have just lost a loved one; Tommy may be a single dad working two jobs. Nonetheless, to the degree that you can, it is important that you factor in people’s capacity for change, and that you watch for signs of overload.

How resilient are those being affected by the change? Each of us has a different level of personal resilience. How resilient we are affects how much change we can handle at one time. Our resilience also affects whether we approach the change proactively, or reactively. And, it may affect whether our “default position” is perceiving change as positive or negative.”

How much control–direct and/or indirect–do people have? The greater the sensed loss of control (including the ability to accurately know what to expect), the bigger the change is perceived. Think of it this way. If the lights go on and off when you flip the switch, you are in direct control. When you see someone else walk over to flip the switch, you have indirect control, since you know what to expect and how to respond to it. But, if the lights just–apparently randomly–start going on and off with no one near the switch…your environment has suddenly changed significantly.

Do people have the skills, or know that they will be able to develop the skills, needed to adjust to the change? For those who do, the change is not as big as for those who don’t.

How invested are they in the status quo? As we have discussed before, even if people don’t like the status quo, they often stick with it because they know what to expect. The more invested you are in the current way things are, the bigger any change that disrupts things.

How aligned is the change with one’s world view, personal beliefs, values, etc. If the change remains equidistant to these things, or moves closer, it will be perceived as a less disruptive change than if it moves further away.

The answer to Is this a big change? is sometimes self-evident. But often it’s much more nuanced… “Yes” over there, “No” in this other area, and “So-so” down the hall.

It is unlikely that you will ever be able to know the answers to all these questions for a change touching more than a small handful of people. Nonetheless, there are things that you can do to take these factors into consideration, and to lessen the disruption of any change. I will write about some of those things next week.

How do you determine how big a change is? Add your thoughts below.

Your Change Leadership Through Their Eyes…


iStock_000003340860XSmallHow important is the change to you? How invested are you in its success? What price are you willing to pay?

If you are leading change at any level of your organization (or in your personal life), then ask yourself this question. How do others see me in relation to this change? 

Several years ago I was working with a global consumer services firm. The lead change agent Peggy and I had been busy day and night preparing for the roll-out to their leadership team. Everyone was gathering at a prestigious country club for the big event. We had met several times with the COO, helping him prepare for the announcement he would be making, the questions that would follow, and the work he would have to be doing in the weeks to come.

The morning of the announcement Peggy and I had visited all of the post-announcement breakout rooms to be sure they were ready. We were heading back to the main hall for the scheduled 9:00 AM announcement when we ran into the COO. He was heading toward the front door, golf clubs over his shoulder. On seeing us he paused long enough to say, Peggy, you know what to tell them. And be sure to tell them how important this change is to me. I really was planning on telling them myself, but 9:00 was the only tee-time I could get. 

The change was dead on arrival.

What you communicate and how you communicate it are critical to change success. And as is so often the case, “actions speak louder than words.” Perception is reality.

Take a look at yourself through their eyes…

Where are you investing your time? 

Carefully review your calendar; your meeting agendas; the conversations you have in the hallways, the cafeteria, the rest room. How much of your time is the change taking up?

If it is a big change, one that is important to the future of the organization, the answer better be, “It is getting a substantial amount of my time.” There is no formula for how much time that should be. But if you are not visibly investing your time and attention in the change, you are signaling others it isn’t really as important as you say it is.

What is being celebrated?

Imagine this… (I’ve seen it. You probably have seen the same or something similar.)

It has become clear that the silo-based approach to customer service is putting the future of the business at risk. Customer satisfaction and retention have both experienced precipitous declines. While there are individual performers who are “stars” in their own areas of expertise, too often the ball gets dropped as customers are passed from one department to another. And, when they pick themselves up, they turn to one of your competitors and leave you behind.

Plans are in place; big changes are being made. The organization is moving forward with its shift from a culture of individual performance to one of team performance. Then at the annual holiday celebration the CEO steps up to the microphone to announce “Employee of the Year.”

Ummmmm… If you are celebrating what was important, rather than what will be important in the success of the change, you are undermining what the change is intended to achieve. If this is your change, you need to be celebrating not employee of the year or even team leader of the year…but team of the year.

What is being measured?

This has been addressed in earlier blogs, but it is worth repeating here. There is a difference between installing the components of a change and actually achieving its full benefits.

Are you measuring change progress in terms of time and expense vs. plan? Yes, those are important. But if you aren’t measuring results, you won’t get them for very long if at all. Installation is necessary, but not sufficient, to yield realization of the change benefits. You need to plan for both, track both, and hold people accountable to both.

How much real listening is going on?

It is vital that you regularly check in to see how your messages are being received. your messaging has to continue to adjust to what people are hearing and believing.

Are there structured environments for listening, interactive blogs, etc? Are you and others who are key to the change listening as much as you are speaking? If not, the tendency will be to send out pre-planned messages “on schedule,” rather than to communicate what people need to hear.

What questions are you asking? 

The questions you ask reflect your priorities. If all (or most) of your questions are about current operations, how much priority will people perceive the change has for you?

What stories are you listening to, and what stories are you telling?

Stories are powerful. Are your stories about “the good old days” of the business? Or are they about the future that you are building together? Are you content to sit and listen to stories about the way things used to be? Or, are you asking others to tell you stories about the journey into the future? if the organization is purpose-driven, are you listening to people tell you all the things that they are doing, or are you asking them to tell stories about living the purpose?

In what ways do you intentionally cultivate how others perceive your change leadership? What messages have you inadvertently communicated as you have developed your change leadership competency? What other questions do you reflect on when considering how you are perceived as a change leader? Your insights, comments, and discussion are welcomed below.